By: Carol Vercellino, CEO & Co-Founder
Working remotely does not have to be a buzzkill for your team during the holiday season! Tacky sweaters and speciality snacks can still be a part of your December, says Christy Knutson, who has founded two companies that have operated remotely from day one. Christy sat down with Oak City Labs CEO and Co-founder Carol Vercellino to discuss ways to infuse festivity into the digital workplace and spread that holiday cheer employees crave so earnestly right now.
Watch the video or read through the transcription to hear Christy’s ideas on how to make the holidays special for your team.
Carol: I’m Carol Vercellino, the Co-Founder of Oak City Labs software development agency. With me here today is Christy Knutson who has co-founded two completely remote companies –Well Refined and Near. Since more professionals are working at home now than ever, and since we need to spread happiness more than ever, we’re going to talk about how to celebrate the holidays remotely with employees. Before we jump into the questions, Christy, I’d love for you just to talk a little bit about Well Refined and Near.
Christy: Sure! So, Well Refined is a full-service marketing agency. We’re based in Raleigh, North Carolina and New York. But our team is remote and works with clients across the country as well. And Near is a brand-new startup. We’re in the end-of-life space, and we offer a marketplace for end of life support service providers.
Carol: So you definitely have a lot going on. And you have two teams to manage, right?
Carol: Alright. So first of all, how do you host a virtual part of your event that doesn’t feel forced, or the team doesn’t feel obligated, or it’s not corny? Which, in reality with my group, that’s the concern.
Christy: Yeah, I get that. And it’s hard – it’s tricky. It’s not something that’s as easy to pull off as in person. Because we are remote, we’ve been doing this for years, and we’ve had some kind of fun experiences together. I think one of the fun things you can do is to really create a cohesive experience that plays to one of the senses, if possible. I mean there are easier ways to do it, of course, but if you’re going to have the bandwidth to maybe mail something, or make sure everyone has something in their hands before the party. Send something like a speciality food or a speciality snack that everyone can enjoy together to create a little bit of unity.
One time we were doing a fall meeting with our leadership team, so we sent out fall candles so everyone could have the same fall scent. We did lavender plants one time for a spring gathering. And then you can always do more traditional things but move them to Zoom. You can still have tacky Christmas or holiday attire over Zoom – that still works well. You can also look at doing some kind of game or an event. And it’s hard to make it not cheesy, but it can be done.
Zapier has a fully remote team, and I remember reading something they did. This was actually something they did in-person at a retreat, but the idea is that we all have really weird hobbies and points of interest that have nothing to do with our working life. So they just took turns rotating through at meetings where a staff member could share a quick 5-minute slideshow or presentation on some off-the-wall hobby or area of expertise. They had some really great examples, so that’s one way to keep it personal and not cheesy.
Carol: Those are some great ideas. We’ve attempted the remote video game thing where we did some games over Zoom, which works well for software developers. Okay, so you mentioned the candles and something that appeals to all of the senses. What about gifts? How do you send gifts to employees and teammates at this time?
Christy: We do a few different things. So at the holiday season, we typically do an end-of-the-year curated gift that we give to both clients and our team members. Each year we try to make sure it’s really full of intention and meaning – not just a random assortment of things that are going to get thrown out. We approach it from different angles. One year we really leaned into the intentional leadership and a time focus. That was when Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead book had just come out, so we did that and we did an hourglass with a good quote about time everyone could keep at their desk. We had a few other small things in there as well.
And then we also do a long distance secret Santa exchange with our team members. So one person is in charge of making sure everyone draws names, and then we just make sure we put a note in the address line – if you’re sending it from Amazon – that says it’s for secret Santa so we don’t open it. And then we all open them together. We’ve done similar things for baby showers, which are fun.
Also just throughout the year we try to send e-gift cards to our team members. If we know there’s been a particularly challenging week, we’ll maybe send one out with an encouraging note to everyone. Or we try to do that around smaller holidays like Valentine’s. It’s also just a chance to celebrate collective wins. Typically if you’re a team, you can do it in a break room, but this is a good way to do it over Zoom.
Carol: Okay, those are great. Well, leading into the holidays, do you have any ideas of ways to make it kind of festive over the holidays?
Christy: Well our team is on Slack, and I think most remote teams are on there, so we’ve done some fun things on there. You can do a holiday show and tell. And so again, that can be Slack or whatever your communication channel is. People can post a picture of their Christmas tree or lights at their house or the Christmas pajamas they pick out for their kids! Anything like that, whatever people feel comfortable sharing.
And then we also share holiday playlists. But you can also create just like a staff playlist where everyone shares a few of their favorite holiday songs and then someone will piece it together as a playlist. And we haven’t done this before, but I’ve seen some companies around Halloween do a virtual pet costume contest, which I think would be really fun, especially if your team has a lot of pets.
You can also offer a holiday meme competition on Slack. Those can be really fun if you’re able to give out some rewards, like extra PTO time or something that is really meaningful.
Carol: Well those are great tips, so Christy, thank you so much for sharing your creativity with us. If any of our viewers have additional ideas for virtual celebrations or questions, we’d love to read about them in the comments below. We’re wishing you and your team a very special holiday season. Thank you!